Fascipedia: your guide to calling out far-right bullshit

Hitler with his Youth

Resisters gonna resist. Remoaners gonna remoan. It’s called democracy.

Hitler with his Youth
‘Nein, children. You are ALL WRONG. (Shoot zem, Franz.)’

“You hate democracy”

“But Remain lied too”

“World war three/recession/austerity budget”

“We’re leaving. Get over it”

“You lost. Suck it up”

“But we’re getting our sovereignty back! We’re taking back control!”

“We’ll be free to trade with the world!”

“I can’t be racist. Islam isn’t a race”

“Liberals are all hypocrites”

“How many refugees have you taken in?”

“Everyone who disagrees with you is a fascist”

“Ha! ‘Tolerant liberals’!”/“Liberals are the real fascists”

“‘Racist!’ That’s the only argument you have”

“We voted leave to gain control over immigration”

“Immigrants are benefit scroungers”

“Immigrants are stealing all our jobs”

“Immigrants are driving down my wages”

“Immigrants put a strain on social services”

“Those Syrians aren’t refugees, they’re economic migrants”

“Why don’t the refugees stop in Saudi Arabia?”

“Why don’t they stop in Poland or Germany or France?”

“All the refugees from the Middle East are men of fighting age”

“Mohammed was a paedophile”

“Islam is a religion of hate”

“All Muslims are rapists”

“Spirit cooking, Pizzagate”

“Benghazi”

If you’ve taken part in, or followed, enough online discussions with a diehard Brexiter, a Trump supporter (apparently there are still a few around) or any other species of fascist, you may have noticed certain phrases cropping up with tedious regularity. The wording doesn’t vary much; it’s almost as if the phrases were lifted directly from a playbook – or a Paul Joseph Watson tweet.

The thing is, they’re all rubbish. While some of their lines are superficially clever, they’re all predicated either on a logical fallacy, or on false information. And even though most of these claims and lines of reasoning have been conclusively demolished time and time again, there are still plenty of basement-dwellers smugly regurgitating them as if they’re the last word.

So for those of you still fighting the good fight out there, I thought I’d put together a handy reference guide – a liberal playbook, if you will – setting out exactly why the far right are wrong, on basically everything, and how you should respond. (Warning: some of these suggestions may result in you being insulted or blocked. Nazis don’t like being proved wrong.)

“Stop trying to overturn the democratic result, you anti-democratic democracy-hater!”

Referendums are about the closest thing we have to true democracy – government by the people. However, the western world worked out long ago that true democracy is not a very effective operating system. For one thing, we don’t all have the time to be voting on every single issue. For another, people aren’t, on the whole, very well informed about things. This is why we have politicians; we need people who know their stuff, or can designate other people (the civil service) to find out about this stuff. That way, they can make what they believe to be the best decision based on the best evidence available.

The belief that a view must be correct because the majority of people hold it is a logical fallacy called the argumentum ad populum, about which I’ve already written at some length. In brief, crowds are not generally famed for their wisdom. You think a million people can’t be wrong? Well, there are 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and they sure as hell can’t all be right.

For this reason, the actual system of government we’ve ended up with in the UK is not true democracy, but parliamentary democracy, under which the people appoint representatives (MPs) to make decisions on their behalf. And as systems of government go, it’s worked pretty well. Most of the world has tried to emulate it.

For much of its history, the UK has fought shy of referenda, for the exact reasons given above. They’ve also been banned in Germany since Hitler used them to arrogate so much power to himself. Plebiscites violate the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.

In referendums on matters of great constitutional importance, a supermajority is usually required – a minimum turnout, and a minimum threshold for change (say 66%). This makes the result binding. But no such parameters were set for the Brexit vote – a simple majority only was required – which technically means it was only advisory. Someone, somehow, lowered the bar for a Brexit vote, and then imposed a result as if the bar had been higher.

That, plus a bit of gerrymandering – banning 16- and 17-year-olds from voting, plus EU citizens and UK expats (what was the criterion for eligibility? Residence, or nationality? How can you justify excluding people on both?) – was enough to drag Leave over the line.

As news emerges every day of further suspected tampering with the result – funding restrictions broken, illegal cooperation between campaign groups, Russia-sponsored disinformation campaigns, harvesting of data and microtargeting of voters – one has to ask: was this really democracy in action?

Democracy of any stripe only works when the decision-makers are properly informed. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of information going into the June 23 vote was risible. The Leave campaign was a snot-soaked tissue of lies, and far too many people swallowed it.

“But Remain lied too.”

The EU referendum campaign is likely to go down as one of the dirtiest of all time. But the hardcore Brexiters insist that, since both sides were as bad as each other, the Leavers can be excused their shameless lies.

First off, most of the Remain “lies” weren’t lies at all. Most were simply attempts to predict what would happen if the UK left the EU. Some may turn out to be inaccurate (although that looks increasingly unlikely), but that doesn’t make them lies; it makes them inaccurate predictions. Why would you even campaign for Remain if you didn’t believe the consequences would be awful?

Leave, meanwhile, were cynically and systematically mendacious, saying things that they knew to be untrue. Turkey’s not about to join. The EU didn’t ban bendy bananas. We don’t always get outvoted in the European parliament, and we sure as hell won’t have £350m a week to spend on the NHS. (There’s a more comprehensive, authoritative list here.)

“What happened to world war three? Instant recession? Austerity budget?”

Contrary to popular belief, David Cameron, almighty dickwad that he is, never claimed that a Brexit vote would lead to an apocalyptic global conflict. That was, in fact, Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, straw-manning Cameron’s much more reasonable point. (Don’t just read the headline – read the story. NOT THE HEADLINE; THE STORY. Idiot headline writers.) Although it’s salutary to note that within hours of questions arising over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, a former Tory cabinet minister was on a war footing.

Most of those who forecast a recession said it would happen after we left the EU, not the day after we voted to leave it. That prediction is looking increasingly safe.

As for the austerity budget, you may or may not have noticed that the man who threatened to impose it was sacked.

“We’re leaving! Get over it!”

The “There is no alternative” fallacy in action. As often as not, this is literally the only argument Brexiters have, and it’s not even an argument.

Of course Brexit can be stopped; if it couldn’t, your tone wouldn’t be so histrionic. There’s a general election coming, there are ongoing legal cases, and we might yet get a referendum on the exit deal, after which we decide not to leave. Even if we do leave, there’s nothing to stop us rejoining soon afterwards, and the demographics suggest that’s exactly what we’ll do.

YouGov poll

“You lost. Suck it up.”

If this is Brexit (or Trump) we’re talking about, and you’re not Arron Banks or Donald Trump or any of their billionaire friends, so did you. We’re all going to be poorer, many of the brightest and best minds are already leaving or cancelling plans to work here, and the UK and US’s global reputations have taken a hammering from which it could take decades to recover.

So, as long as there’s any prospect of Brexit being reversed and Trump being impeached, or at least of the damage being reduced, that’s what all true patriots – those who stay, anyway – are going to continue to fight for. Resisters gonna resist. Remoaners gonna remoan. It’s called democracy.

Besides, the ardent Brexiters didn’t shut up for the 40 years of our EU membership, and arch Republicans bitched about Obama from day one. Why should the losers this time round conduct themselves any differently?

“Now we’ll be free to trade with the world!”

We were already free to trade with the world. Who do you think accounts for the other 56% of our exports?

“But we’re getting our sovereignty back! We’re taking back control!”

The UK was never a subject of the European Union. It was a fully fledged member – and among the most influential of them, to boot.

The UK had a hand in drawing up most EU legislation, and a power of veto over the stuff it didn’t like. We were very rarely on the losing side of a vote, and we always had the threat of leaving as a last resort. (Now that we’ve played that card and are on our way out, we no longer have any such clout.) It wasn’t about 27 other countries telling the UK what to do; it was about 28 countries deciding together what to do, and then abiding by that decision.

In any case, the legislation passed by the EU was generally trivial, technical stuff. Laws about industry regulations, manufacturing standards, safety protocols, environmental targets. Little of it was very controversial (unless you were a Daily Mail leader writer); it was just oil for the wheels of commerce. We’ll still need to pass equivalent laws in our own country – by ourselves. Now we’ll be footing the bill for that (this work accounted for a lot of our annual membership fee).

In no real sense is anyone in the UK “taking back control”. We’re simply taking it from one set of faceless bureaucrats (the EU commission and parliament) and handing it to another (Westminster – to all intents and purposes, the Tory party). And of those two sets of bureaucrats, I know which I believe has the interests of ordinary working people closer to their heart.

“I can’t be racist. Islam isn’t a race.”

If you’re being face-achingly pernickety, then yes, attacking a religion does not technically make you a racist. However.

Strictly speaking, no one can be a racist, because there is no universally agreed definition of the set of characteristics that constitute a race, or where to draw the lines between them. It’s pretty obvious, however, that plenty of people treat others differently based on the colour of their skin, that they discriminate, and it’s generally agreed that these people are scum – hence your strenuous objection to being called racist. (Let us also note, in passing, that the overwhelming majority of followers of Islam are brown.)

Second, those who set out to discredit Islam might have a different target from a racist, but their methodology – or rather, their error – is identical. They’re still discriminating, just on the basis of religion instead of colour.

English speakers haven’t quite settled on the right word for this yet – I’ve seen “faithism” and “religionism”, but those give us the rather clunky derivatives “faithist” and “religionist” – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. On far right websites the world over, it clearly does.

You may not, by the strictest definion, be a racist for demonising all Muslims because of the actions of a few of its adherents, but you’re no fucking better than a racist. You may not be racist, but you are most certainly a cunt.

“Liberals. You’re all such hypocrites!”

I’ve dealt with this point in some detail already, but here’s a quick recap.

Accusing liberals of hypocrisy is probably the far right’s favourite pastime. “Do as I say, not as I do,” they sneer, despite having no clue as to how you spend your day. Apparently, because they lack even a scintilla of empathy for their fellow man, everyone else must be similarly handicapped.

Well, this may come as a surprise, buster, but a lot of us actually back our words up with action. We give to the homeless and to charity; we raise awareness of, and funds for, good causes; we volunteer; some of us even actually take in refugees.

But even those who don’t are not wrong because they don’t spend every minute of their spare time doing disabled veterans’ shopping. We’re still entitled to speak our minds in the hope of influencing public debate. And this is, coincidentally, exactly what all the at-right seems to spend all its time doing; I’ve yet to see one of them putting his money where his mouth is and jetting down to the Levant to fight Isis, or unilaterally deporting a family of Muslims.

I’ll continue to “virtue signal” as much as I like, thanks, if you’re going to carry on evil signalling.

“How many refugees have you taken in?”

The most common example of the above. Again, I’ve talked about this. We cannot physically do all the things we wish were done, and it’s not up to us anyway.

“Everyone who disagrees with you is a fascist.”

A slight variation on the above, but one that invites a different response.

I’ve disagreed with plenty of people. Muslims, Jews, socialists, conservatives, doctors, teachers, plasterers, feminists, vegetarians. And none of them were fascists. (OK, maybe the doctor was a bit of a prick.)

The difference was, they made their arguments politely and reasonably, and were willing to listen to what I had to say. We usually found some common ground, and always learned something from each other.

The far right, meanwhile, for all its bleats of “free speech”, does everything it can to silence all opposition. They make (ahem) liberal use of ad hominem and smear tactics, they lie, they fabricate stories, and when given half a chance, they kill. I have yet to learn anything from a fascist, except a creeping disillusionment at the coldness of some of my fellow men.

“Ha, liberals, they say they’re so tolerant, and yet they won’t tolerate any views that don’t agree with theirs.” 

Aka “Liberals are the real fascists”. Occasional variation on the above. Liberals can, and do, and have, for years, tolerated differences of opinion. There’s only one view that we won’t tolerate, and that’s any view that involves silencing others’ views. Such as, for example, fascism.

“‘Racist!’ That’s the only argument you have.”

It’s really not. It’s just the most obvious, important one, and often the only observation of substance I can fit in 140 characters.

If you fancy a change of insult, I also have unimaginative, unoriginal, gullible, backward, reductive, simplistic, binary, ill-informed, mendacious, misleading, and utterly lacking in compassion.

“We voted Leave to regain control over immigration.”

The UK government has always had full control over immigration from countries outside the EU. It simply failed to invoke those powers. The vote to leave the EU will have precisely zero effect on the numbers of, for example, Pakistani Muslims coming to live and work in the country. (It might even lead to an increase, as if EU migrant numbers fall, certain sectors will still need a workforce, and many trade deals, such as the ones we hope to strike up with India and the Philippines, are dependent on visa quotas and/or free movement of labour.)

It’s true that under freedom of movement laws, any EU citizen can come and live in the UK, and many have chosen to do so; but even they are under restrictions. They can only claim jobseekers’ allowance for a limited period, for example; they can be refused entry for any number of reasons; they have to wait three months before claiming most benefits; and they cannot claim permanent residency without comprehensive sickness insurance for the whole period of their stay (and not many took it out, since its importance to their rights has only recently been spelled out).

What’s more, EU law does not prevent us from deporting criminals from outside the UK. Anyone considered a sufficient threat can be chucked out, and those powers have been beefed up in recent years.

Why did the government not make more of an effort to reduce immigration? Because, along with just about every economist, it knows that immigration benefits the economy. Attracting the best minds from all over the world has a hugely positive effect on GDP.

“Immigrants are benefit scroungers.”

Bollocks. EU immigrants pay far more in tax than they take out in benefits. As I mentioned above, their access to  welfare is in any case limited. In fact, the proportion of UK natives claiming benefits is higher than the proportion of EU citizens doing the same.

“Immigrants are stealing all our jobs.”

Let’s gloss over the fact that this assertion totally contradicts the last one. Immigration is not a zero-sum game; the number of jobs to go round is not fixed. The more people come into the country and earn and pay taxes and spend, the more jobs get created. It’s no coincidence that two of the most migrated-to countries in the world, the United States and the United Kingdom, are also two of the richest; or that the most insular – North Korea, Cuba, Somalia – rank among the poorest.

By way of illustration, unemployment in the UK, now host to more immigrants than at any point in its history, is currently at an all-time low.

“Immigrants are driving down my wages.”

The data is far from conclusive. One study found that large-scale immigration can exert a slight downward pressure on pay in certain sectors, but most think the impact is negligible. For the most part, what’s kept workers’ salaries down in recent years is spiralling executive pay, rising rents, and the economic crash of 2008.

“Immigrants put a strain on social services.”

The vast majority of immigrants – from all countries, not just the EU – are young, healthy net contributors to the economy. If services are under strain in certain areas, that’s the government’s (or the local council’s) fault, not the immigrants’ (and it certainly has naff all to do with the EU).

In any case, given that so many immigrants work in the very social services they are allegedly destroying, our infrastructure would be a lot shakier without them than it is with.

“Those Syrians aren’t refugees, they’re economic migrants.”

Really? They’ve abandoned their home country and everyone they love, given their life savings to people traffickers, risked death several times over and lived in a filthy camp for months, just so that they can claim £60 a week? Isn’t it more likely that their homes have been turned into warzones and their loved ones have been killed, or they’ve been the victims of religious persecution, and that their only choice, if they want to live any sort of worthwhile life, is for a fresh start in another country?

“Why don’t the ‘refugees’ stop in Saudi Arabia?”

Many of them have. The reason official statistics list Saudi Arabia as having taken zero refugees from Syria is that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE never signed up to any UN protocols on refugees. Ergo, it has a different classification system: anyone from a nearby state who turns up seeking a haven in Saudi is not registered as a refugee, but as an “Arab brother or sister in distress”. It’s estimated that around 500,000 such distressed siblings from Syria are currently benefiting from Saudi hospitality.

“Why don’t they stop in Poland or Germany or France?”

Again, many do, but not many of them speak Polish or German or French. One of the side-effects of being a great commercial and cultural power is that a lot of people abroad learn your language, and it just so happens that English is the most widely spoken European language in many parts of the Middle East.

“All the refugees from the Middle East are men of fighting age.”

In a bid to stoke up fears of terrorist infiltration, or alternatively of “white genocide”, the far right are for ever banging this drum: “If all these people trying to get into the country are genuine refugees, why are they all young and male?”

They’re not. According to UN figures, 50.5% of all refugees worldwide are women, and a further 17% are aged under 18. Males aged from 18 to 59 make up just 22% of all refugees worldwide.

It’s true that a higher percentage of recent refugees from the Middle East to Europe appear to be male; a UNHCR report estimated that 72% of the 400,000 people known to have crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 were male. But this isn’t so sinister when you think about it for a second. How many children, women and old people do you think could survive that perilous crossing, a walk of thousands of miles, and countless nights without shelter and food?

It’s also worth remembering that because of the lower life expectancy, a far higher proportion of Syrians are young males. The average age of a man in the UK, with its relative peace and prosperity, is 39.3. The median in Syria is 23.7.

“Mohammed was a paedophile.”

According to the Qu’ran, when he was in his 50s, the Prophet married a nine-year-old girl. Extremist rightwingers take inordinate glee in repeating this point at every opportunity, using it as “proof” that Islam is a corrupt and evil religion.

First of all, debate is still raging among Muslim scholars about the actual facts behind this story. Mohammed certainly seems to have been betrothed to a girl, but no one knows for sure when the relationship was consummated.

Second, this is seventh-century Arabia we’re talking about. Things were different. For one thing, puberty was regarded as the onset of female adulthood. Marriage to, and sexual intercourse with, young girls were commonplace – and not just in the Middle East. Here are a few examples of other historical figures who are believed to have had what would today be considered improper associations:

  • Joseph, “stepfather” of Jesus (married Mary when she was 12)
  • St Augustine, father of the Christian church (betrothed to a 10-year-old girl)
  • Edward I (his bride, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was 13)
  • Isaac II Angelus, Byzantine emperor (took a nine-year-old wife)
  • Richard II (married his second wife, Isabella of Valois, when she was seven)
  • Giralomo Riario, Lord of Imola (took a 10-year-old wife)
  • Thomas Jefferson (strong evidence that he had a relationship with an underage slave)
  • Even in the modern era, we have Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Elvis Presley dating a 14-year-old Priscilla, and Bill Wyman preying on the 13-year-old Mandy Smith. As recently as 1984, the Paedophile Information Exchange was an active campaigning group in the UK. Times change. You can’t judge yesterday’s men by today’s standards.
“Islam is a religion of hate.”

Trust me, if Islam were a religion of hate, and all 1.6 billion of its adherents were hellbent on destroying western society, I would not be here to write this, nor you there to read it. Most respected estimates put worldwide membership of jihadi groups at about 100,000. That’s 0.00625% of the Muslim population. Almost all of them are in their native lands or nearby, and the battle with Isis in Syria and Iraq is likely to have put a dent in that figure.

For the record, the vast majority of liberals hate those evil bastards just as much as the far right do. We just don’t want to tar the 99.99375% with the same brush.

“All Muslims are rapists.”

A proportion of men commit sex crimes, and Muslims are no different. But some high-profile cases, such as the Rotherham child abuse scandal, which involved abuse on a huge scale from the late 1980s to the early 2010s, have given fascists plenty of ammunition for their anti-Islam smear campaign.

True, the proportion of Muslims in UK jails (15%) is higher than in the civilian population (4%), but that corresponds almost exactly to the profile for black people (12% versus 3%). Muslims are more likely to go to prison largely because they’re statistically more likely to be from poor areas with higher crime rates, and they’re more likely to be stopped and searched. The authorities may have turned a blind eye to wrongdoing in Rotherham, but the wider pattern, it seems, is one of racism as usual.

It’s also probably worth a reminder at this point that a lot of the stories of rapes of white women by Muslims are either exaggerated, endlessly repeated, to make them seem more common, or just plain made up.

The fact remains that most sex offenders, by a huge margin, are white men. And no one, I hope, is proposing to deport all white men.

“Hillary Clinton took part in ritual sacrifices and ran a paedophile ring from a pizza parlour.”

Really. She didn’t. There is literally no evidence to back up this ridiculous assertion. If there were, Donald Trump would have been able to follow through on his promise to “lock her up”.

“But Benghazi.”

Mistakes were undoubtedly made in the run-up to the attack on the US embassy in Libya, but a hearing at the House of Representatives in October 2015 largely cleared then secretary of state Hillary Clinton of any direct responsibility for the tragedy.

***

OK, I’m done for now. Next time you catch anyone trotting out any of this guff, don’t waste time Googling and copy-and-pasting. I’m sure you’ve got more important things to worry about. Just reply “BS” and paste in a link to this page.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few out. Please chip in if you have any far-right bollocks you’d like debunked – I’ll keep this updated, and maybe, if I get enough time and help, some day turn it into a wiki.

Bastards and fools: an open letter to my MP

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answer

An open letter on Brexit to my MP, Keir Starmer QC

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answerKeir Starmer QC MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

February 10th 2017

Dear Keir,

Why did you become an MP?

Your previous job, as director of public prosecutions, was better remunerated, so it can’t have been for the money. You seem a humble and conscientious sort, so I doubt it was for the glory. Was it, then, because you wanted to make the world, or at least your country, a better place? I ask because I’ve been wondering whether your actions of late are fully consistent with that aim.

I’m not a religious man, but I’d like to quote you a passage from the Bible that offers an insight into the wisdom of crowds.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

The governor said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’

They said, ‘Barabbas!’

Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’

They all said to him, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ (Matthew 27:15)

The argumentum ad populum – the contention that something must be right simply because most people believe it to be so – has been recognised as a fallacy since Thucydides. The unspoken truth behind the representative democracy we have accepted as our political system is that ordinary people are not good at governing themselves.

Ordinary people do not have teams of advisers. Ordinary people do not have a civil service to carry out exhaustive research on the pros and cons of any proposed policy. We do not always have top-drawer educations, or the luxury of spare hours to meditate on problems. Few of us are able to see even the small picture clearly, never mind the big one. This is why we entrust MPs with the running of the country.

Never has there been a more exquisite demonstration of this point than the EU referendum. It’s clear beyond a shadow of doubt that hardly any Britons – on either side – bothered to acquaint themselves even fleetingly with the workings of the European Union, or the benefits and drawbacks of membership, prior to the vote. Those who did found themselves confronted with hysteria, hyperbole and rampant disinformation.

Even now, when I engage in online discussions with Leave voters, I find the majority still parroting the flagrant falsehoods published in the Sun, Mail and Express and on far-right conspiracy websites such as Breitbart and Infowars: lies about bendy bananas, lies about EU accounts never being signed off, lies about Turkey’s imminent accession and David Cameron’s World War Three (it was, as you know, a triumphant bit of straw-manning from Boris Johnson).

While I do not doubt that some people voted Leave in good faith and in full possession of the facts, some of the reasons I have seen and heard have ranged from the trivial to the downright absurd.

Even before the vote, it was clear that many of these motivations were incompatible. Opponents of free movement, for example, cannot possibly have their wish at the same time as those who want to create a flexible, deregulated “European Singapore”. We cannot both drastically reduce immigration and give more money to the NHS. Whatever shape Britain (or, as seems likely, its former component parts) is in when Brexit is over, a sizeable proportion of Leavers are going to be bitterly disappointed – on top of all the Remainers, and many of those who didn’t vote.

'We voted leave because of immigration'

Hannan: "No one voted Leave because of immigration'

No one can say with certainty how deep and lasting the damage wrought by Brexit will be. (That fact alone should have been deterrent enough.) Most of the unaccountably maligned “experts” are pessimistic: between 3% and 9% off the country’s GDP, job losses in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, cooperative enterprises such as Erasmus and Cern wrecked, reduction in revenue for universities, loss of tax and talent from the skilled migrants now making plans to work elsewhere, and a colossal dent in the UK’s soft power. Even many Leavers quietly admitted that the UK might suffer economically and politically, at least in the short term, though they assured us that the advantages (the muezzin call of “Sovereignty!” that we hear five times daily) would eventually compensate.

Should article 50 be triggered, the ultimate fate of the country will hinge, of course, on the exit negotiations. The omens here are not good. We started out by offending our longstanding allies with our arrogant (and baseless) announcement that we would be better off without them. Theresa May’s bullish stance and the casually offensive remarks of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage then rubbed salt into the wound. And given that the EU is keen to make the prospect of leaving as unattractive as possible to deter other members from following suit, and given our woeful shortage of skilled trade negotiators, I see very little chance of us emerging from these talks with a lovely cake and a pleasant throb in the belly.

The UK, then, looks set to end up poorer, more divided, and more isolated on the world stage – at a time when the authoritarian right is enjoying an alarming renaissance, when Donald Trump’s presidency is destabilising world peace, when radical Islam still poses a potent threat, and when Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions are gathering momentum.

Brexit risks being not just a faltering step backwards from economic, political and cultural standpoints, but a giant leap.

It comes as no surprise, then, that applications from foreign students to study at UK universities have already fallen by 7%. It will not shock you, either, that a large number of EU citizens resident in the UK are making preparations to leave. For some, the vote on Wednesday 8th February against the amendment on article 50 guaranteeing their rights was the final straw.

These are not scroungers, dossers or health tourists. These are hardworking, talented human beings who contribute hugely not just to the economy, but to society. They have jobs, they speak English (often to a higher standard than some of the natives I’ve encountered online), they have built lives here, and many have found love here. But their abysmal treatment at the government’s hands, and the new wave of xenophobia unleashed by the referendum vote, have made them feel unwelcome, and uncertain about their futures.

We risk throwing out not just the bathwater, but the baby, and the bath.

I’ve heard North Korea’s nice this time of year

I should add at this point that, if the government persists in its pursuit of a recklessly hard Brexit, if liberal values continue to be scorned and undermined, if racially motivated attacks continue to multiply, then I will be joining them in leaving. Am I overreacting? You be the judge.

Never mind that Brexit has destroyed my retirement plans. Never mind that the vote has already cost me almost £2,000 in increased holiday costs and grocery bills. What truly horrifies me is what seems to be happening to my country.

For simply airing the possibility that a hard Brexit might not be the best possible outcome for the country, or for suggesting that perhaps not every single Muslim on these shores is a western-hating rapist intent on killing us all, I have been called a traitor, a moron, a “cuck”, a “libtard”, and worse. For espousing views that I once saw as synonymous with the land of my birth – openness, tolerance, cooperation, trust – I have received multiple death threats.

I suddenly live in a society where where perfidious hatemongers like this man have acquired unquestioning followings in the hundreds of thousands.

A society where views like this, and this

'I hope all the refugees freeze to death'

and this

Guy threatening to kill Tim Farron

and this

Picture of drowning migrants labelled 'scroungers'

now routinely go unchallenged.

A society where behaviour like this, this, and this is becoming normalised. People are being verbally and physically abused, in some cases killed, for the crime of wanting to help other people – or simply for wearing the skin they were born in.

The country is falling to bastards and fools: bastards who weave lies and fools who believe them.

'The EU arliament is not elected'

If this is the new Britishness, then I want no part of it. I refuse to contribute any more to a country that tolerates, or even celebrates, racism, ignorance and spite. I’ll go to Canada, or Ireland, or Germany, where something like the British values of old still pertain. And I know for a fact that I will not be the only one.

A promise is just a promise

Theresa May seems intent on pursuing Brexit to its most brutal extent, no matter the cost. One can only assume that this is because she regards the referendum as a form of contract with the people of the UK; a promise.

But governments break promises all the time. The Tories broke nine of their 2015 manifesto pledges within 100 days of taking power. At least three more have gone for a burton since June 23:

Conservative manifesto: broken promises of Brexit

But there is a larger problem here. What if fulfilling one promise means breaking others? What if enforcing a disastrous Brexit leads, as it well might, to the breakup of the UK? To new borders and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland? To lost jobs, to further cuts to the NHS, to higher taxes, more austerity? Who is to say that the Brexit promise outweighs all others?

Politicians don’t like to make U-turns because they think they are a sign of weakness. But sometimes, backtracking is the bravest thing you can do. The sunk cost fallacy has been acknowledged as a fallacy for almost as long as the argumentum ad populum. You can always turn back. And sometimes it is the only sensible course of action.

In any case, Brexit is not the “will of the people”. It is the will of at most 17.4 million people – a total that undoubtedly included many who were voting purely in protest at Cameron and austerity. Even fewer wanted a hard Brexit, with all the upheaval and economic woe that it will entail.

I was delighted to discover that you were standing as my MP. You seemed that rare and precious thing: a politician with brains, integrity, conviction. A man who thought and spoke well and was not afraid to take an unpopular stance. As a result, in the 2015 general election, I put a cross next to a Labour candidate’s name for the first time. When Labour lost, and Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership, I thought he, too, seemed a decent man.

But unless you, and the Labour party, abandon your policy of pusillanimous submission to Theresa May’s every unmandated whim, unless you begin making substantive efforts to minimise the damage wrought by Brexit, and in particular, unless you start offering some credible support to my European friends in this country, whom you have, until this point, unforgivably betrayed, I will have no choice but to switch my allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, the only party that has shown consistent integrity on this issue. Until I emigrate, of course. Then you can do what the hell you like.

History is studded with stories of people in power faced with difficult choices. On the one hand, the safe option: give in to the will of the most vocal, even though they know the consequences are likely bad. On the other, ignore the clamour of the ill-informed, have the courage of your convictions, and choose the more difficult, but ultimately more beneficial, course of action. Those who choose the first path are invariably, like Pilate, reviled. Those who choose the second are feted as heroes.

You don’t eradicate the language and behaviour documented above by appeasing it. You eradicate it by fighting it with every sinew. Every day these bastards are not resisted, they grow bolder. To allow a hard Brexit is to pander to their tiny-minded, combative, backward, binary vision of the world.

How will you be remembered?

Yours

Andy Bodle

Attack of the phantom Nazis

Trump's tiny inauguration crowd

The fascists on social media don’t have a following. They’re trying to build one

Trump's tiny inauguration crowd
That’s about the size of it.

The rise of the alt-right is undoubtedly a concern; but perhaps not as big a concern as you feared. And you can stop it getting any bigger without leaving your front room.

A year of interacting with fascists on social media has taught me a few things. First off, a lot of them are bots, automated accounts set up by … well, that speculation’s for another day.

Second, many of them are the same people operating several accounts. Most haven’t even made the effort to conceal their multiple personas, using similar handles and profile pictures. Even those that have soon give themselves away by using the same boilerplate phrases, or making the same grammatical mistakes.

Why do they bother? Well, the first lesson of movement-building 101 is to create the impression that your constituency is bigger than it really is. There are a lot of weak-minded people around, and a lot more who like the idea of being part of a club. If they think everyone else is becoming a fascist, FOMO might lead them to sign up. And the bigger a movement appears, the more likely it is that those who disagree will be cowed into silence.

Sure, 17 million Brits voted Leave and 60 million Americans voted for Trump. But the vast majority weren’t fascists. Many were disillusioned, protesters, people misled by the media. On the whole, they voted for change – not violent revolution.

The reason the fascists have taken to Twitter and Facebook is precisely that they haven’t found enough people in the real world who support their ideas. They don’t have a following; they’re trying to build one.

And the good news for decent folk everywhere is that they’re shit at it. Today’s fascists are, broadly speaking, as dumb as posts. They communicate almost exclusively in slogans and memes, are barely conversant in their native language, and can rarely muster followers in double figures. This generation of Nazis couldn’t organise a putsch in a beer hall. And most of them are either atrophied virgins cowering in their mummy’s basement, pensioners who wouldn’t last a second in a fight, or nihilistic trolls who only believe what they write for as long as it takes to rattle a liberal. Any far-right action right now would basically consist of few fat shaven-headed football fans on Stella, hoping for a ruck.

Nigel Farage cancelled his march on the Supreme Court in December not on security grounds, but out of fear of an embarrassingly small turnout. Though it may not seem like it at times, decent folk outnumber these cowardly shits by a factor of hundreds to one, and they’re generally younger and brighter to boot.

While I don’t think the fascists have the courage or the numbers to take to the streets at this point, that might not always remain the case. But we need not let things get to that point. Nazification is not inevitable.

All decent folk have to do to prevent any further rise of the alt-right is speak up. Stop pretending they’ll go away; start objecting, resisting. If enough voices combine in a huge shout of “NOT ON MY WATCH”, they will remain fragmented, disorganised, disheartened.

Wars and intolerance and hate have been a blight on human history. But the direction of progress is unmistakable. The more tolerant we are, the more successful we are. The more we cooperate, instead of competing, the more safe and prosperous and happy we become. Humanity has achieved its dominance of this planet precisely as a consequence of its humanity.

So, by all means, block a Nazi today. But make sure you (metaphorically) punch him in the face first. Let him know that he is on the wrong side of history; that this petulant little burst of fascism, as Barack Obama put it last week, is a comma, not a period.